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Mysteries of the East

Patients across Asia are taking the initiative when it comes to their healthcare, becoming much more resourceful and knowledgeable about the conditions that affect them

Patients in Asia are researching their conditions using the internet

Patients across Asia are taking the initiative when it comes to their healthcare, becoming much more resourceful and knowledgeable about the conditions that affect them.

They are putting paid to the traditional stereotype that patients in Asia are much more passive about their healthcare than their Western counterparts, preferring instead to adhere to the maxim, `doctor knows best'.

Things are changing. While once doctors in Asia were deemed to be the only credible source of healthcare information, patients across the region now see the internet and news media as reliable places to find medical information, according to a report from public relations agency, Weber Shandwick.

Not only are patients now proactively seeking information, they are using it to confirm their diagnoses and, in some cases, to request specific prescription medicines.

The results suggest that patients right across Asia, in China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, are following the global trend towards not simply relying on advice from their doctor, but finding out for themselves.

Everything in moderation
The result of our survey is good news for patients and doctors, as doctors have less time to spend with patients everywhere in the world, including Asia, said Jill Mortensen, managing director, Asia Pacific Healthcare, Weber Shandwick.

The survey shows that the news media and the internet, if used correctly, can help serve as important supplements to information about ongoing management and treatment of medical conditions, she added.

A total of 817 patients, from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, who had taken at least one prescription medicine in the last 12 months following diagnosis, were surveyed. All the patients were over the age of 20 years and had been diagnosed with one or more of the following chronic diseases:

  • Asthma

  • Depression

  • Diabetes

  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease

  • Hepatitis B

  • High blood pressure/hypertension

  • High cholesterol.

More than half (55 per cent) of respondents said they discuss new information they learn from the media with their doctors, and 37 per cent said they ask their doctors about specific brands after learning about them in the media. Some 64 per cent of patients revealed that they receive the specific drug they ask for.

Respondents also spoke of the psychological benefits of reading about their medication: 57 per cent said it made them feel better about taking their treatment; 41 per cent said it acted as a prompt, reminding them to take it, and 36 per cent said they felt they wanted to share their knowledge with other potential patients.

Respondents suffering from depression were most likely to use the media to find medical information: three out of five had already read about their condition in the print media before diagnosis, while one-third had seen it on TV.

The survey revealed that women rather than men are more likely to turn to traditional media for information, while men prefer to use the internet. In China and Korea, seven in 10 respondents said they regularly use local websites to research their condition.

A cultural change is clearly underway and increased internet coverage is likely to catalyse this change in attitudes towards healthcare information. However, while 49 per cent of Chinese patients said they already knew about their disease from the internet and 50 per cent of Singaporeans had researched their condition in the print media before visiting the doctor, 77 per cent of respondents across all countries surveyed still said doctors remain their preferred source of medical information.

25th November 2007

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